Rainbow Diving…Our return to Nha Trang

Having completed a try dive with Rainbow Divers, we had made the decision to invest some of our budget in attempting our PADI Open Water Diving qualification. It’s quite a considerable amount of money when you are budgeting for ongoing travel, but the chance to get this under our belts with a team that we were familiar with, and in excellent diving conditions was just too good an opportunity to pass up.

So, with considerable excitement, we left Cat Ba and returned to Nha Trang.
It’s a nice feeling to return to places, to arrive without apprehension and having a little more understanding of where you are going, how much a taxi should cost-and where to get the best food! We even returned to the same hotel, where we were greeted with recognition and an appreciation of our return business-so far so good.
We made our way straight to Crazy Kims, the bar from which Rainbow Divers operated. It was clear that the ‘season’ was in full swing now-the dive centre was a hive of activity with many sunburnt smiling faces returning from their day on the boat.
We got ourselves booked in for our PADI course, and discovered that we would be taught by the instructor that had taken us for our try dives-a Dutch guy called Quentin. This was quite the result, we had both felt extremely comfortable with him on our initial dives, and he had done wonders to reassure Jo of any apprehension left over from her previous diving experiences.
Just to give you the background, Jo had started a PADI course in New Zealand a number of years back, and had a bad experience where she ended up panicking in the water-so not only was this the task of learning the necessary skills, Jo would also be trying to overcome some considerable fear.

The course would be over four days-the first day in the classroom doing all of the theory and written exams; day two we would be going to the nearby navy diving pool for instruction in various underwater techniques; then the final two mornings we would be out on the boat doing our four open water dives-very exciting indeed.

Day one in the pool and all was well-I won’t bore you with all the techniques that you cover, there is loads of information around on the internet if you’re interested-I would suggest further reading on the PADI website.
All was well, that is until we reached the final test-the full mask removal. This is something which proves to be a common difficulty for many people who do these courses, and unfortunately it was something that Jo was struggling with. Every other technique had been completed with no issue, but when it came to removing the mask Jo just couldn’t stop herself from inhaling water, and rising to the surface in a minor panic. It was gut wrenching, Quentin regretfully informed us that Jo would not be able to dive unless she got this skill nailed, but the more she tried the more frustrating it proved.
Feeling something of a heavy heart, we returned to the hotel to blast the internet to find others that struggled with the same thing-and to hopefully find some way to solve the issue. It was with some reassurance that we discovered how common an issue it was-although no simple answers, there were a few suggestions which seemed to be worth thinking about when we would be getting out on the boat the next morning.

And so we were off, our inaugural dive trip!

And so we were off, our inaugural dive trip!

First dive site, Madonna Rock...Named so because apparently they resemble a part of Madonna's anatomy....

First dive site, Madonna Rock…Named so because apparently they resemble a part of Madonna’s anatomy….

Arriving at our first dive site and we had prepped our kit and done our pre dive checks, it was time to get into the water. As we went to make our first descent, Jo’s demons returned and she just could not go ahead with the dive. She was gutted, understandably, and returned to the boat with the option of doing some snorkelling while we continued with the course. It was horrible thinking of Jo as I continued down to the dive site, I knew that she would be upset and frustrated and I wanted to get back on deck-but obviously that wasn’t an option. 20m visibility and a cacophony of colours invading my mask, the coral and fish giving me some other worldly vista…but only for brief moments. You see, I am still always aware of the fear, the fear that I am underwater and I need to concentrate on doing all that I have been instructed to do. Every now and again, I would catch glimpses of this fantastical environment, but for the most part I was consumed with self awareness and, indeed, self preservation…….And Quentin, hand signals giving me instruction, and his backside leading the way.
The first dive complete and we returned to the boat to set sail for our next dive site-Jo was in surprisingly good spirits and being a lot more positive than I would have been…Whether that was a direct result of cake consumption or not I’m not sure, but she was handling things brilliantly. At the second site I continued my course and Jo got involved with some snorkelling, the excellent visibility treating Jo to more of a coral colour show than I managed to muster-with my blinkered concentration only allowing me glimpses of the world around me!

On our return journey Quentin came to debrief us and seemed resigned to finishing Jo’s course with a program of snorkelling for the next day-this was a desperately disappointing conversation to close the morning off. Having returned to shore and gotten back to our hotel, we decided to approach Rainbow Divers and ask them to get Jo back in the Navy pool to get her skills finalised on the last day. Given that we had paid for the PADI course, an afternoon of snorkelling wouldn’t be enough to get out of it, and getting over the hurdle of the face mask removal would obviously be of more benefit. Quentin agreed to help us out and take Jo back to the pool for a one to one session the next day-hopefully nailing all the necessary skills. Somewhat happier with the situation, we ate and went to hit the sack early ready for the final day in the water. Lo and behold when we got back to the hotel there was a phone call from Quentin, the following day wouldn’t be possible to take Jo to the pool-so he wanted her to come out on the boat again and we would find ‘pool like conditions’ where Jo could try the skills once again. On the one hand it was great that Jo would be out on the boat with me again, on the other it added a certain amount of uncertainty back into the equation. Little did we know that this twist of fate would prove to be the absolute best thing that could have happened!

Out on the boat for the final time and my penultimate dive served to tick the final boxes on the skills that I needed to demonstrate to pass my PADI qualification-I had done it, just one ‘fun dive’ left where I would be ‘just diving’ for the first time.

Quentin giving me the international approval sign of a high five!

Quentin giving me the international approval sign of a high five!

PADI Jones, ready for action!

PADI Jones, ready for action!

Now it was time for Jo to get back in the water and find a spot to try and get the mask removal nailed. As Quentin and Jo swam a bit further towards shore, I took the opportunity to do some snorkelling myself while I waited. Jo seemed to be in the water for an absolute age, by this time I had returned to deck and had immersed myself in a program of coffee drinking and cake eating! Soon enough there was movement at the back of the boat and I made my way to meet Jo as she returned to deck. Broad smiles on their faces seemed to be a good indicator, not only had Jo managed to nail the full mask removal first time (plus another two times!), but Quentin had also gotten her to complete the rest of the required skills. Basically Jo completely nailed it! Quite obviously delighted, Quentin then informed us that he would be more than happy for Jo to join us on our final dive. She would not take away the final PADI accreditation, but she would only have to complete three more open water dives to finish the course. It seemed a far cry from the disappointment of the previous day, and taking to the waters together for the final dive was a superb way to finish our time here.

RESULT!!!!!

RESULT!!!!!

Pretty darn happy with the way things turned out!

Pretty darn happy with the way things turned out!

Dive buddies!

Dive buddies!

Summarising our experience, Rainbow Divers were excellent and the diving in Nha Trang was wonderful. Quentin deserves special recognition for his patience and effort-we are now both proud owners of dive log books, and we are looking forward to finding somewhere else in the world to get Jo’s final three dives ticked off.

This would also be our final act in Vietnam, for now we return to Cambodia, and a six week volunteer teaching post in a Cambodian province.

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The next extreme-Thai boxing Christmas in Pai

The last couple of weeks had certainly proved the contrasts in experiences that you encounter while travelling-precisely the reason that many hit the road. For sure we hadn’t planned the meditation and the permaculture farm beforehand-one thing that we had planned was to get involved with some martial arts training, and without doubt at the top of that list was to do a Thai boxing camp in Thailand.

We’ve both missed our various sporting activities, and being able to fit in regular training while travelling is really tough; we have managed a few runs so far-and even got to hit some pads on the beach in Cambodia, but this was our first opportunity to dedicate some significant time to training. With a resounding endorsement from one of our friends (cheers Stevie!), we headed North to Pai and Charn Chai Muay Thai for two weeks in a Thai boxing camp. Our start date locked in for the 21st December, we were going to be spending our first Christmas away from home in a gym….It kinda made sense to us!

Apparently Pai has had a boom in popularity over the last few years because of a couple of films set in the region, don’t ask us what films-the only answer I can give is that they were popular in South Korea! This popularity results in Pai being extremely busy over the Christmas period, something that became apparent when it came to booking accommodation-so, quite bizarrely, I had found a hut at a piranha fishing farm for us to stay in for our time at the camp. Being 8km outside of Pai, it wasn’t ideal in theory, but at £7/night and scooter rental at £1/day-it was the best option available. On arrival at our home for the next two weeks any reservations of our choice in location quickly dissolved, and we fell in love with our little hut in the country!

Our lovely little hut!

Our lovely little hut!

Complete with its own fire pit!

Complete with its own fire pit!

The calm of the fishing lake....Little do you know of the terrors that lurk beneath!

The calm of the fishing lake….Little do you know of the terrors that lurk beneath!

.....But apparently they're 'vegetarian' piranha...At least that's what we were told!

…..But apparently they’re ‘vegetarian’ piranha…At least that’s what we were told!

Settled in to our little hut a day early, time to rest up before the commencement of camp-two weeks, twenty sessions and forty hours of Thai boxing…. Oh, and Christmas and New Year!

Saturday 21st December, 7.45AM…… Our first session at Charn Chai Muay Thai.
We thought we were being clever by starting our regime on a Saturday, as the one day of the week that you get off is Sunday. Little did we know that Saturday’s ‘warm up’ is sprints up 356 steps at Pai’s very own mountainside white Buddha, Wat Phra That Mae Yen, at the end of a 4km run…. Something of a shock to the system first thing on day 1!

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‘Warm-up’ done, and it was time to get involved in our first session proper. It’s a nervy feeling when you train at a new gym for the first time, and this was no different. As it turns out some of the fighters from the gym had fought in Chiang Mai the night before, so we were treated to a relatively quiet first session where they monitored our current level; technique coaching/observation, general fitness work, bag work and then some core-a relatively straight forward start for our first two hours in the gym.
Come ten o clock and we settled down to eat at the gym, we had opted for two meals a day with our training, and so would eat with others training at the gym for extended periods. We thought it would be a good opportunity to get to know people, little did we know that we would be treated to some outstanding food to boot-it really was quite fantastic. Typically you would have a meat dish, a vegetarian dish, an omelette, and rice-there wasn’t one meal that disappointed!
As soon as we had eaten, we hopped on the scooter and high tailed it back to Pai Piranha to rest before the afternoon Thai boxing session that started at 3PM, we knew that this interim period would be essential rest and recovery time for a twice daily training regime.
A few hours in the hammock and we returned to the gym for our second session of the day from 3-5PM-as is the heat of the day, skipping and press ups formed the warm up rather than a jog…So 15 minutes of skipping and 60 press ups later and we were into our first session proper-and the first session with the gym owner, initially a quite imposing figure by the name of Bee.
Bee wanted to review our skill levels personally and the afternoon session followed the structure of the morning quite closely-understandably not willing to let ‘unknown quantities’ loose in sparring or on the pads until they knew we were ready to do so. We completed day 1 with no problems-aside from the shock of the morning temple run, and once again feasted on another wonderful meal with the rest of the guys.
One of the surprises that arose from chatting with the others was the number of people that were there long term, there were 6 or 7 people who had been there for a couple of months or more-I naively thought that we would surrounded by people just dipping in and out of a few sessions-but we were the ones that were actually ‘short termers’. All the more reason to make the most out of the twice daily training opportunity that we had over the next two weeks.

As we had cunningly planned, just the one day of training before our first day off! Unfortunately you can’t plan for everything, and Jo was stricken with a 24 hour bug that had been going round Pai, and was confined to the hut for the entire day…Not the day off exploring the locality that we were hoping for.
I’ll spare you the details, and skip forward to Monday where the training ramped up as we were judged to be fit to take part in ‘proper’ training-and so our daily regime for the next couple of weeks began, every morning 7.45 till 10.00, then every afternoon 2.45 till 5-welcome to camp!

Morning warm up – 5km jog (Wednesdays and Saturdays featured the temple run) / Afternoon Warm up 15 minutes of skipping, with sets of 20 press ups every 5 minutes
Technique – coaching and practice of various combinations working with a partner. Of particular note were the elbow and defensive techniques taught
5 x 4 minute rounds on the pads, 10 press ups between rounds (sparring on Wednesdays and Saturdays)
Circuits – timed rounds of single kicks each leg, double kicks each leg, knees, alternate teeps on the heavy bags, and some weights
Clinch rounds – 20 press ups, 20 sit ups between rounds
‘3 to a bag’ – 100 kicks on the heavy bag, 50 kicks each leg
100 knees followed by 20 press ups
….
and then, at the end of every session-the core circuit:
Legs in the air
Crunches
Side crunches, each side
Normal sit ups
Butterfly kicks
Plank
Side plank, each side
Superman
21 press ups

Each on of the exercises was performed for time rather than reps, and the time was dictated by each person in the group having to count to ten….When there are up to 25 people in a session, this can get pretty drawn out!
Session would draw to a close with some stretching, and then respect to the trainers before devouring our meal and high tailing it back to our hut.

First few days came as a bit of a shock to the system, the twice daily training really doesn’t give your body time to recover at all. Some pretty impressive bruises on bruises were being developed on our shins, they were in a proper state! But, as they say, no pain no gain and we really threw ourselves into it. we both really rated the coaching from the team of trainers there, and that’s no surprise given that at least 5 of the coaches there have had in excess of 300 fights! Bee himself was ranked number 1 at the world famous Bangkok Lumpinee stadium when at his fighting peak.
There was real attention given to your technique during the rounds on the pads, and new combinations and techniques were gradually introduced during these sessions throughout the two weeks.

6 sessions in and Christmas Day was upon us already, and yes-at 7.45 Christmas morning and we were at the gym training! We did treat ourselves to the afternoon off though as the owner at Pai Piranha was a British guy who was putting on a massive Christmas dinner. We didn’t want to miss out on festivities altogether and so we joined about 30 other people at the restaurant. It far exceeded any expectations that we had, not ever thinking that we would get a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, but it was absolutely superb.

Christmas done and back to training-although I was unfortunate to be hit by the 24hr bug on boxing day, so rather annoyingly missed two sessions. Again I’ll spare you the details, but needless to say I confined myself to a cool dark room.

Sunday arrived and we finally had a free day to do some exploring-so we headed to Pai Hot Springs Resort to soak our aching muscles. This place was pretty spectacular, with natural steaming hot springs and an icy cold infinity pool-we spent the afternoon in hot/cold muscle recovery mode! Each night there is a walking market in the centre of Pai, and even though we had regularly passed by through the week-Sunday was something of a highlight and so headed down after the springs to take in the various sights sounds and tastes.

My poor tortured legs!

My poor tortured legs!

The more time that we spent in Pai, the more I thought it is a bit of an odd place. There are A LOT of westerners that are pretty well settled in Pai, and they all have a similar story when you speak to them “oh I just came here for a couple of days, that was 3 years ago”. I think that the reason for this is that it’s easy, it doesn’t really feel like you’re in Thailand. Everyone speaks good English, there are familiar items in shops, nice coffee shops, bars, and there’s something of a ‘hipster’ scene going on. I can see the attraction for some people, but it turned me off a little-the way that saw it people were just doing the same thing in a different place, living a cliché. Don’t get me wrong, it was pleasant enough, but I couldn’t envisage staying there for any extended period of time. I was happy that training dominated our time in Pai, that’s what we were there for after all.

We got the chance to head out to a local festival in an adjacent village, where some of the fighters from the gym were going to be fighting-and for sure this felt like a more authentic Thai experience. A great spectacle, a boxing ring in a field, children throwing firecrackers and fireworks all around, the buzz of a local village hosting their own fight card! A mixed bag of results for the fighters from the gym, one French guy that trained at Charn Chai was spectacularly knocked out by a local….Something of a sucker punch really, but that is the thing about any combat sport, it only takes one punch! Another one of the Charn Chai fighters was a young Thai lad who fights at Lumpinee stadium, and he was amazing. He pretty much exclusively traded in elbows and knees, his range and timing was something else to behold-it was a rare and unexpected treat, in this ring in the middle of a field!

Charn Chai Muay Thai Pai-highly recommended!

Charn Chai Muay Thai Pai-highly recommended!

Group shot of all at the gym

Group shot of all at the gym

Fight night!

Fight night!

Our time in Pai really flew by and New Years Eve was upon us in a heartbeat-fatigue setting in a bit now and so we charged ourselves up with the Thai energy drinks before heading out for the evening. The guys at the gym put on a bit of a shin dig and so we enjoyed hog roast, karaoke and a fair few beers-Chinese lanterns seeming to be something of a Pai New Years tradition-there were hundreds let off across the town, as well as a couple from Charn Chai!

New Years eve preparation-M-150 and red Bull!!

New Years eve preparation-M-150 and red Bull!!

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And so we exit stage left, on the back of a truck!

And so we exit stage left, on the back of a truck!

Into 2015 we hobbled, fatigued and with bruised shins-something of a whirlwind of a few weeks; first meditation, then Willows farm, and now Muay Thai-it couldn’t have been more varied! Our time in Pai had come to an end, and so back to Chiang Mai for a few days before our next chapter-Laos!